Karel Schoeman's Afrikaans novel, Hierdie lewe, was published quite a long time ago in South Africa (1993 to be exact), where it won the Hertzog Prize, the biggest cherry on the local literary cake. Although many of the author's other novels have also received important awards in South Africa, his works are not widely translated and he is not nearly as well-known internationally as his literary compatriots JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, André P Brink and nowadays even Deon Meyer. Hierdie lewe had to wait nearly two decades before it finally found a French publisher, the relatively unknown Phébus, which published Pierre-Marie Finkelstein's translation earlier this year under the title Cette Vie.
The list is also a fascinating mix of 'serious' and more 'popular' authors, with recent laureates like the American Nicole Krauss for The History of Love and the Spanish Carlos Ruiz Zafón for The Shadow of the Wind. And the crowned novels are translated from an impressive variety of languages. Of course the 'big' languages like German (Günter Grass and others), Spanish (Mario Vargas Llosa and others), Russian (Vassili Grossman and others) and Japanese (Yasunari Kawabata and others) are well represented, but it is a pleasant surprise to spot so many 'smaller' languages on the list: Estonian (Jaan Kross), Lituanian (Youozas Baltouchis), Polish (Bruno Shulz), Hungarian (Péter Nádas), Swedish (Per Olof Enquist)... And now, for the first time, also Afrikaans.
So, yes, I am grateful that a novel in my mother tongue has finally joined this illustrious list of foreign works honoured by the finicky French. Schoeman had to wait sixteen years for the honour - but in the literary world, as in life, it is always better to arrive late than not to show up at all. Dankie, Karel Schoeman.